Skip to content

Samuel Wilson’s Ledger

October 1, 2018
by the gentle author

October is Huguenot Month in Spitalfields and this year’s theme is Women & Power including walks exploring Spitalfields Sisters, The Work & Lives of Remarkable Women.

Kate Wigley, Director of the School of Textiles, introduces the rare survival of an early nineteenth century weaver’s working diary. She will be speaking about Samuel Wilson’s ledger at 2pm on Saturday 20th October at Christ Church, Spitalfields. Click here for tickets

When my eyes fell upon the weaving ledger of  Samuel Wilson (1792-1881) for the first time, I was struck not only by the captivating fabrics but also the beauty of the detailed records of production and manufacturing processes. Each line, carefully written in exquisite copper plate, sits alongside its own delicate textile production sample.

Written between 1811 and 1825, the ledger is a record of Samuel Wilson’s apprenticeship to his brother’s company, Lea & Wilson of 26 Old Jewry, Cripplegate, alongside an account of his personal exploration of weaving processes. When he embarked on his apprenticeship in 1806, Samuel began a comprehensive study of the process of silk manufacture – from throwing to weaving.

Samuel’s brother, Stephen Wilson was known for introducing an early version of the Jacquard loom into England in 1820 through his own patent. He was already well established within the London silk industry and had expanded his business with additional premises in Streatham. In the pages of the ledger, it is evident how mechanical improvements were contributing to the development of the Joseph Marie Jacquard’s new manufacturing technology.

Samuel Wilson became a leading force in the London silk industry and worked his way up to the position of Upper Bailiff in the Worshipful Company of Weavers. By 1838, the power of Samuel’s Wilson wider influence was recognised when he was elected Lord Mayor of the City of London.

Although his ledger is in private hands, I have been granted the opportunity of studying it in detail after I first encountered while researching early nineteenth century looms with textile historian, Mary Schoeser. Turning the pages carefully, we were both surprised how the ledger touched us and, without quite realising it, we found we had made a silent pact to uncover the secrets held within.

The opening pages are devoted to a discourse on how to create a perfect woven circle and the many minor adjustments to the ‘tyes’ and ‘sett’ that Samuel had to make on a loom to achieve this. It reveals the remarkable technological changes weavers experienced in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Part-way, the ledger includes patterns for silk scarf designs. A tantalisingly small cutting of a hand-woven red and yellow silk for ‘chair bottoms for one of her majesty’s rooms in the Castle Windsor’ in 1816 is pinned carefully to the left-hand corner of a page.

Samuel Wilson’s apprenticeship record is a rare discovery that offers a unique view of the workings of the London silk industry in his era. More importantly, Samuel shares his own experiments and personal findings alongside accounts of disputes over weavers’ pay, dye recipes and client orders. The fabric samples and text are of great interest in their own right, but together they comprise an exceptional window into the development of a period in London’s textile history that is largely neglected. Through his personal ledger, we can read Samuel Wilson’s personal thoughts and hear his voice too.

Photographs copyright © Kate Wigley

Click here to see the full programme of events in this year’s Huguenot Month

You may also like to read about

Nicholas Leman’s Album

Anna Maria Garthwaite, Silk Designer

The Processes of Weaving

3 Responses leave one →
  1. grace caruso permalink
    October 1, 2018

    These are lovely….works of art really.. I know of several similar pattern books done by people who are crocheting or knitting for themselves or their families. Little snippets of patterns. Also works of art.

  2. Connie Unangst permalink
    October 2, 2018

    Historic textiles are so fascinating . Thanks for sharing. Amazing to see the brighter colors and patterns. This particular blog was one of my favorites. Connie

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    October 4, 2018

    Lovely designs! I wonder if he is a relation of mine? I will come to the talk to find out more…

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS